The recent case of Linda McCall - the Borders teacher found guilty of assault and aggressive and abusive behaviour towards young children in her care in a primary school raises some important questions.
It is indubitably horrifying that a teacher can do such things, and as a society, we all have a collective gasp at such crimes in the modern age. Look beyond the conviction and the individual concerned, and just as disturbing, on a different level however, is the actions of the public body with statutory responsibilities to the children involved. Scottish Borders Council.
Scottish Borders Council is a publicly funded unitary authority with a statutory duty to ensure efficient provisions of school education within the borders council region. It has a duty to protect, safeguard and educate all children within its schools settings and to ensure the welfare and safety of the young people in its care. The abuse at the hands of Mrs McCall took place over a fourteen month period between August 2016 and October 2017 whilst she was employed by the council at one of its schools. The law prevents any publication of any information which may identify the children concerned but we know and can say, that the whistle was blown on her behaviour by her own colleagues who reported it to senior members of the school. Scottish Borders Council investigated it themselves internally, and moved the teacher out of the school with no explanation given to the families of the children involved.
Parents asked questions about why Mrs McCall had suddenly left the school, and queried rumours which had begun circulating regarding children coming to harm within the school setting. The parents’ concerns then were brushed aside, and finally after a lot of perseverance, they were told repeatedly by the council that they had investigated and there was “no truth in the rumours and that they were simply “whispers”. Meetings took place in person where senior management from the Council told families that “ not a hair on their children’s heads had been harmed” The staff who had raised the alarm to management, reportedly felt pressure to keep quiet, not to speak out, and for obvious reasons, were worried about jobs.
All these issues raise serious questions about the conduct and integrity of Scottish Borders Council and its senior leadership team. It suggests, at best, an incompetent and shambolic mishandling of an extremely serious child protection issue, and, at worst, a systematic cover up to save the reputation of the teacher involved and the Council.
Perhaps to deal with it as they could have done by informing the families, the police and child protection at the start, would have exposed failings and inadequacies in their systems and it was just easier at the time to hush it up and move Mrs McCall out quietly? If true, this is utterly reprehensible and this needs to be investigated and exposed.
Two weeks ago, in light of the criminal convictions, I stood with Christine Graham MSP and called for an independent inquiry to be established to find out what went wrong within Scottish Borders Council. I stated that the children had been utterly failed by the council and that an inquiry was the least that should be done to learn lessons. Make no mistake, I believe that heads should roll for this at the highest level.
The latest development came on Thursday 27th May 2021 when chief executive of Scottish Borders Council, Netta Meadows announced to elected members of the Council that she was “instigating an independent Inquiry into how the council dealt with the concerns which were raised”. This is welcome. However, with no information as yet about who will lead the inquiry, what format it will take or its scope or remit and whether the families involved will be allowed to have their say, there is little cause for optimism. This is a tragedy on all levels. The road to justice has been a long one for the families affected who persevered and never gave up when they heard their children may have been harmed at school but were met with the big brick wall of Scottish Borders Council.
Scottish Borders Council must now be held to account for its abject failures to all concerned.
A full transparent public injury must now be instigated. The families also deserve an apology- a full and complete apology. The Chief Executive’s failure to do so, and address the families involved directly in her statement since the convictions, is deafening in its silence.
Anything less than a full public enquiry will be a grave injustice for the children affected who have already been through so much. But also crucially, for the many thousands of children who will follow in their wake through the education system in the Scottish Borders, they all deserve a council they can trust.
Inquiry over Borders Council handling of teacher abuse case - BBC News 27th May 2021
Court: Borders teacher assaulted children at primary school - Borders Telegraph - 14th May 2021
Blog by Marina Urie, Solicitor